Today makes 8 years since I moved into my village in Zambia, where I spent 3 years as a Peace Corps Volunteer in the Community Health Program.  It was Easter morning, so it was quiet there while everyone else was at church.  I was fresh out of my three-months of training and ready to start the new life I'd signed up for.  I was terrified to be there all alone, thousands of miles from home, to figure out the language and culture and start working at a job I wasn't sure I was ready for.  I was excited to try it out anyway and to make new friends.  Two years later, I signed on for an extra year, so I obviously fell in love with my job and with Zambia.  Clearly, that experience is one of the key events of my life and the impact on my growth and development is beyond words.  Today I am full of memories and gratitude for the friends I made and the gifts I gained.  I am especially grateful to the children who lived near me- they were extremely patient teachers of language and culture.  Even though I was a fully capable, able-bodied adult, I never would have survived village life without the help of children under the age of 12.  
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Forster, Me, Mwelwa, Chabby, Ellen, Eliza- My best friends and greatest teachers.
 Here are just 10 of the lessons I learned there: 
1.  A storytelling circle is a priceless gift.  Gather ‘round the fire with your friends and share your stories.  Even if you’ve told them 100 times, it’s still so much better than the reruns you could watch instead.   Some of my best memories from the village are of those story times, even when I couldn't understand them, because the feeling in the circle was of love and community. 

2.  We are each individuals and deserve attention.  In Zambia, when you walk into a meeting, you go around and shake hands with each person and go through a greeting sequence with them, asking how they are and how their family is.  You don’t just wave hello at the whole bunch- that will be offensive and get you nowhere.  Back in American settings, I've found that instead of just plowing into asking someone something- like at the grocery store- if I first ask them how they are and really listen, it changes the experience.  It's more personal and connected and feels so much better.  

3.  A smile can still light up a room, even when you don’t speak the same language.  And a tremendous amount of your message can be conveyed with facial expressions.
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1. art time in the village! 2. Me, Patrick, Chief Chimesi's son & wife, Chief Chimesi, Parvathy (my best friend & fellow Peace Corps Volunteer)
4.  Share whatever you have.  I can't count the number of times I'd see two kids sharing one pair of shoes- each wearing one shoe.  There is no greater example of sharing than that.  And my neighbors always offered to share their food with me, no matter how little of it they had.  No matter how little I think I have, I ALWAYS have enough to share with someone else.    

5.  Make an honest effort.  In my meetings, my caveman Bemba normally got my message across (Boil water.  Wash Hands.  No diarrhea.) and there was always a translator to assist me when it wouldn't.  But, the fact that I showed that I was trying to learn the language and making a genuine effort was always well appreciated by my audience.  I always got shocked comments from people who were so moved that I'd tried, even though I murdered their language.  It's always worth it to try to use your skills, even when you're not yet an expert. 

6.  Imagination opens the whole world up for your exploration.  Zambian kids create the coolest toys.  They make their own soccer balls out of plastic grocery bags and string, make real moving toy cars out of juice boxes and flip flops, and use charcoal for chalk.  I was constantly in awe of their ability to create something out of nothing. 

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Mansa Market
7.  One woman's trash is another's treasure.  I know this is a clichéd statement, but I saw it for truth in the village.  I learned to look at my trash and at recycling in a whole new light.  I didn't throw away plastic bottles- I saved them to reuse or to share with my neighbors.  I even sent my charcoal brazier home with the kids every day after I finished cooking; because they used them to keep warm while they slept (I had enough blankets and preferred them).  The ashes then came back to me and went into my pit latrine to reduce odors.  Nothing wasted.   


8.  There is always room for joy.  Laugh, sing, dance.  My friends and neighbors in Zambia were not always well fed.  There were periods when the harvest was poor and they were starving or sick.  However, they were always laughing and singing and dancing.  If they can choose joy when they're dealing with so much, how can I not choose it just because I'm having some minor trial?  Also, any empty container or flat surface can be a drum.  There is never a good excuse not to dance.  

9.  You can find love in the most unexpected of places.  I met my husband in the market, in front of the used tires and miscellaneous metals.  It was over a year later that we started dating, but the market will always be special for us, since that's where we first met. 
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Me & Joshua- 2007, Zambezi
10.  NOTHING tastes as good as fresh, warm peanut butter pounded with your own two hands. 

Thank you, Zambia!  You are always my second home and I'm so grateful for the multitude of blessings you gave me.  Thank you to all the beautiful people who are now part of my life and my heart because of that adventure!

If you need support in seeking out your dreams, please check out my Work page for more info on how we could work together.  Or got here for info about  a free Fairy Godmother Session to dig into your dreams and see what magics we can find. 
 


Comments

Victor Mwakalombe
04/11/2013 18:56

Very inspirational story you have posted mulamu.

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